A potpourri of show tunes set against a backdrop of ancestral heritage characterized this year’s Pioneer Day Concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, presented June 18 and 19 and featuring guest artist Santino Fontana.
Well known as the voice of Prince Hans in the popular Disney animated feature Frozen, Mr. Fontana elected not to perform any musical selections from that movie, for reasons he explained near the end of the concert.
Instead, characterizing himself as a “storyteller,” he told the audience, “We came up with a selection of songs from Broadway shows and movies that all tell a story.”
Among them was the title song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella, for which Mr. Fontana garnered a Tony Award nomination last year for his portrayal of Prince Topher.
True to the occasion, the choir and orchestra, conducted by musical director Mack Wilberg and associate musical director Ryan Murphy, began the program with the well-known Latter-day Saint hymn “They the Builders of the Nation,” followed by “Faith in Every Footstep,” the anthem composed by K. Newell Dayley for the Church’s Pioneer Sesquicentennial of 1997.
“So much that we enjoy today is really not of our doing,” said announcer Lloyd Newell in his narration. “Rather, it is the legacy of those who, with faith, crossed oceans and prairies, planted fields and built cities and who pursued dreams and discoveries. Our souls are enlarged as we reflect on the trials of those who struggled to build a better life for those they loved and for generations to come. And our souls are made whole as we remember the joy they found in their journeys. For it is in that joy that we find the living water that sustains us through each step of our own lives.
“It is in that spirit that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square and special guest Santino Fontana combine grateful hearts and remarkable talents in this evening’s Summer Celebration of Song.”
Greeting the audience, Mr. Fontana described his having been invited to perform: “A while ago, I got a phone call. ‘Santino, have you ever been to Salt Lake City?’ No. ‘Have you ever sung with a 100-piece orchestra?’ No. ‘Have you ever sung with a 360-voice choir?’ I think I’d remember that. ‘Have you ever sung in a 21,000-seat hall?’ What? ‘Do you want to?’ YES.”
Later, as a memento of the occasion, the guest artist took a moment to take a couple of “selfies” with his smartphone, one with the choir in the background and one with the audience. These were posted on Twitter soon after the Friday performance.
In addition to joining with the choir and orchestra for two of three selections from the Broadway show “West Side Story,” he performed with them “How to Handle a Woman” from Camelot, which he said gives good advice to any man who would fall in love: the way to handle a woman is “to love her, simply love her, merely love her.”
He also joined with them in “She Likes Basketball” from “Promises, Promises” and the haunting “Never Never Land” from Broadway’s “Peter Pan.”
Mr. Fontana introduced the concluding number by acknowledging the fact that his character in “Frozen” turns out to be a villain and that he couldn’t leave Salt Lake City on a down note, so that was a reason why there was nothing from the movie in the concert.
“I wanted to sing something that the good guy would sing,” he said, “and I wanted to do something that was a first for this venue. I think the choir will agree with me that this fits the bill.”
What followed was a medley of a several songs, all with the word “Happy” in them, arranged for the occasion by Sam Cardon and Bob Stillman, marked by audience handclapping and artist showmanship, including a brief moment with Mr. Fontana accompanying himself at an upright piano.
Well received as the program was, arguably the high point was Mormon Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott’s solo on the Conference Center organ of “Hot Pipes” from Victor Davis’ Jazz Concerto for Organ and Orchestra. It was a wide-ranging ragtime number with elements of Dixieland. It included a whimsical, high-register clarinet part and even a brief segment from “Mexican Hat Dance.”
The audience rewarded Brother Elliott and orchestra members with a raucous and prolonged standing ovation for their musical hijinks.
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